Being tired makes us more likely to lie, cheat

Lying, dishonesty

Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, there appears to be certain times of day that make people more likely to lie or cheat. According to a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Washington and Georgetown University, feeling tired increases the odds of behaving unethically.

After examining the results of two different studies, investigators reported that night owls are more likely to lie or cheat in the morning. Conversely, morning people (also known as larks) are more likely to be dishonest in the evening hours.

“We found that the same person can be less ethical at different times during the day, and different people can be more or less ethical at the same time of the day,” said Brian Gunia, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School.

Individual circadian rhythms play an important role because they relate directly to when people feel most tired. And when people feel tired, says Gunia, they may be less inclined to err on the side of honesty.

For the research, Gunia and his team examined the results of two different studies. In the first one, participants were offered payment to solve a variety of tasks during morning hours. The results? Night owls were more likely to lie by over-reporting the number of tasks they had finished. In another study, researchers had participants take part in a die-rolling activity where they were paid based on high rolls. Larks who completed the task at night reported higher rolls than larks in the morning session. The reverse was true for night owls.

“What we found most interesting is that there’s so much variability in people’s ethical behavior that they can almost be Mr. Hyde in the morning and Dr. Jekyll at night, or vice versa, depending on their chronotype,” said Gunia.

Researchers say that if required to make decisions at a time of day when energy is low, people may feel more inclined to cheat. According to Gunia, if you know you’re going to have to make an upcoming ethical decision, you should strive to make that choice during a time of day that aligns with your sleep pattern.

“Another way to look at it is in terms of managing and leading employees,” said Gunia.

From a business point of view, researchers speculate that managers who ask employees to make ethics-testing decisions during a low-energy period may inadvertently encourage unethical behavior. Managers might want to consider asking their employees about their circadian rhythms. Then if they have to ask workers to make an ethical decision, they could try to schedule it for a time of day that encourages an honest outcome.

By Marianne Hayes

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